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F1 History Magazine 21

Roebuck’s legends: Carlos Reutemann

Taken from the May 1997 issue of Motor Sport

In a book shop the other day, I noticed by chance a volume on the life and, for want of a better word, works of Mark Thatcher (no, please, stay tuned, I have a good reason for bringing this up). Any mention of the son of the former PM always puts me in mind of Carlos Reutemann and the 1981 Caesar’s Palace Grand Prix. Sad for Carlos, I know, but it can’t helped.

magazine history  Roebucks legends: Carlos Reutemann

After that race, Thatcher was at his most self-important, which was very self-important indeed. Earlier in the week I had encountered him one evening in a liquor store, surrounded by the security people for whom I hoped you and I were not paying, and now here he was again, NBC microphone in hand, elbowing ordinary humans out of the way as he sought to get to Alan Jones, who had won.

At that point in his life, Thatcher was dabbling with motor racing, and if he invariably came across as a man of quite breathtaking charmlessness, this was no deterrent to certain grandees of the paddock, who fawned over him without shame. Anyway, here was Thatcher, TV crew in tow, fronting up to Jones. “Were tyres very important in the race today?” he gravely intoned, and Alan, God bless him, didn’t let us down. “Oh, absolutely,” he replied, deadpan. “They kept the wheels from touching the ground…”

magazine history  Roebucks legends: Carlos Reutemann

It was a sublime end to a perfect day for Jones. Although he later went back on his decision, this was supposedly his last Grand Prix, and everyone dreams of going out a winner. The cherry on the cake was that Reutemann, his Williams team-mate, had lost the World Championship to Brabham’s Nelson Piquet.

If Alan had little time for Nelson, he had none at all for Carlos. And that afternoon Vegas, where winning is all, preened over one Williams driver, and spat the other away. While Jones took the plaudits, Reutemann quietly packed his gear and slipped away.

Carlos had been electrifying in practice, giving free range to that flair and deftness always apparent when the right mood was on him, and setting a time in the opening session which no one was to equal. He exuded confidence and good humour, and evident, too, was that exaggerated languor indicative of Reutemann at his most dangerous.

magazine history  Roebucks legends: Carlos Reutemann

He had a one point lead over Piquet, and thus, to take the title, needed only to finish ahead of him. The exhausting nature of the circuit and the torpid conditions, too, should have worked to his advantage, for his stamina was exceptional, and Nelson, if truth be told, was perilously unfit. “I think Carlos is going to be World Champion,” Gilles Villeneuve commented, “because he’s so much stronger than Piquet.”

On lap 17, though, the Brabham got ahead of the Williams, and there it stayed. “He made it easy for me,” a bemused Piquet said afterwards. “Braked early, left the door open…”

Later Reutemann mumbled about understeer and gearchange problems, but in truth he drove as if in a trance. Whatever may have been awry with the Williams, how could a man on pole position, touching the hem of the title, have been down to fifth after the first lap, to seventh by the third? It was as close to Greek tragedy as I have seen in motor racing.

magazine history  Roebucks legends: Carlos Reutemann

Ultimately Piquet finished fifth, scoring the two points he needed, and Reutemann eighth, but even in the last couple of minutes the championship could have gone Carlos’s way, for Nelson was so exhausted he could not have completed another lap.

If Reutemann had no one but himself to blame, still I felt sympathy for a driver I had always admired, a man I had always liked. But that evening I encountered for the first time the brutal mentality we now take almost for granted. Why, one of the younger drivers asked, hadn’t Reutemann simply put Piquet in the wall?

I argued that Carlos would never contemplate anything of the kind, that this was someone who had integrity. “Who’ll remember that?” the brat scoffed. “Piquet had to get past him – all he had to do was put him off, and he was World Champion! No one could have proved anything.”

magazine history  Roebucks legends: Carlos Reutemann

When next I saw Reutemann, I mentioned it to him, and he, too, was shocked. To win a title like that, he said, wouldn’t have been winning anything. No one would have known, the other driver had said. “I would have known,” said Carlos.

Through most of that 1981 season, he had driven wonderfully, and I thought him well worthy of the World Championship. By the time of the British GP, he had 17 points over anyone else, yet it was at Silverstone that I began to detect the return of the flawed confidence that was always Carlos’s major shortcoming. “Six races left,” he mused. “A long way to go…” But everything, I pointed out, was going well for him. “Hmmm, I know. Too well, in fact, and that worries me. To be honest, I feel a little bit alone.”

magazine history  Roebucks legends: Carlos Reutemann

The Williams motorhome was not a place of calm that summer. It was rare to find Jones and Reutemann in there together, and if you did, chances were they were sitting far apart. This had its roots in a rainy day in Rio at the beginning of the season. Carlos had joined Williams as the number two, but in Brazil he had led all the way, Alan awaiting an invitation to pass which never came. Afterwards Jones was livid, and, given the terms of Reutemann’s contract, he had good cause. “Jones had reason to be upset,” Carlos agreed. “I saw the pit signal three laps from the end, and I knew the terms of the contract. But I always started every race with the intention of winning it and now I was being asked to give it away. ‘If I do that,’ I thought to myself, ‘I stop the car here and now, and leave immediately for my farm in Argentina. Finish’.”

You could see his point, but you could see Alan’s, too. And if you liked both men, as I did, your predicament was very real when you braved the icy portals of the motorhome. “In terms of equipment we gave Carlos exactly the same as Alan,” Frank Williams says now. “But Carlos needed more psychological support than most drivers, and I’ll admit that we didn’t appreciate that sufficiently.”

magazine history  Roebucks legends: Carlos Reutemann

After Silverstone, Reutemann’s season began to unravel. At Monza, he qualified over a second faster than Jones, but in the race it rained, and he trailed in well adrift of his team-mate. In Montreal, also wet, he was nowhere, and thus we came to Vegas.

Such a complex and enigmatic man, Carlos. On his day, he was as good in a racing car as anyone I have ever seen, but too often he squandered his gift, fell prey to the mind games he played with himself. Perhaps his happiest season was with Ferrari in 1978, when Villeneuve was his team-mate. “I like Gilles, and I envy him so much,” he once said to me, “because he really belongs here, in a Formula 1 paddock.” Two years ago, before practice for the Argentine GP, Reutemann, now 53, took to the track once more, in a Ferrari 412T. It was a demonstration, nothing more, but his best lap was actually the 11th fastest of the day.

magazine history  Roebucks legends: Carlos Reutemann

“Amazing, isn’t it?” murmured John Watson. “Same style, same timing, same flair. It’s all there still.”

“Give him a bit of time and he’d qualify in the top 10, no problem,” said Bernie Ecclestone. “It’s the old thing: if you can do it, you never lose it. And he really could do it.”

So he undoubtedly could. When the mood took him.

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magazine history  Roebucks legends: Carlos Reutemann

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21 comments on Roebuck’s legends: Carlos Reutemann

  1. Marco Bertini, 23 August 2013 11:00

    “Lole” was the penultimate winner at the Nurburgring and I think this is enough to determine his talents. It made me angry when in his moments of inspiration my Fittipaldi could not even keep up.

  2. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 23 August 2013 12:45

    I remember watching that race live as a kid.

    I was a young kid and, being Canadian, I was pulling for Gilles and didn’t care who won ‘The World Championship’.

    That Las Vegas race showed that neither Piquet nor Reutemann were at the level of Villeneuve, whether in terms of fitness, mental strength or, to be brutally honest, scorching speed.

    When you look back at that 1981 Grand Prix season you’d have to see that three of the greatest drives that year came from Villeneuve (Monaco, Jarama, Montreal).

    The only other driver who caught my (extremely young) eye that summer was Prost in that Renault-Elf turbo.

    I know this is a Lole article so i’ll finish off by saying that Argentina ended up with at least one politician who’s sense of intergrity was well above most politicians in the history of this planet.

  3. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 23 August 2013 19:40

    Such an intriguing topic as Reutemann’s challenge in that 1981 F1 season is, it surely allows – and deserves – a detailed analysis, because it is one not to be seen again in today’s formula 1. Just take a look on Webber’s similar 2010 title challenge and his situation in 2013.
    From Nigel’s article, it is clear Reutemann’s fair play at the Las Vegas title decider, but doubts about his performance there never cease to appear and perhaps it is a good idea to interview him again about what really happened as every other involved then, as a single person, insist in blaming him for the lost title with not even considering another possible cause.
    There is evidence of car failure and even Williams Team Manager at the time, Charles Crichton-Stuart told something about the gearbox then. Such a problem was so desirable at Las Vegas as at Monaco, I think, and Reutemann’s refusal to blame it openly on the media (perhaps his contract forbade him to do it) made him even a greater sportsman to my view.
    For me, that lost title continues to be one of the great shames of F1, just think of another second driver leading the championship for 17 points at half season and losing it at the last race for just a single point, and I doubt anyone will ever get so far in his cravings in the future.

  4. Rich Ambroson, 23 August 2013 21:37

    ‘But that evening I encountered for the first time the brutal mentality we now take almost for granted. Why, one of the younger drivers asked, hadn’t Reutemann simply put Piquet in the wall?

    I argued that Carlos would never contemplate anything of the kind, that this was someone who had integrity. “Who’ll remember that?” the brat scoffed. “Piquet had to get past him – all he had to do was put him off, and he was World Champion! No one could have proved anything.”’

    I could have sworn Ayrton Senna didn’t enter F1 until 1984, not ’81…

  5. Alex G, 23 August 2013 23:22

    @Rich Ambroson Didn’t Prost race in 81′ though? Makes one wonder…

  6. Dave Cook, 24 August 2013 09:23

    Back in the day (sorry,cliche alert) Carlos was one of those drivers that you didnt’t, er, sort of notice, what with the excitement generated by the likes of Villeneuve, Jones and Piquet. Until the end of the race when he was always there, when it mattered. Everybody goes on about drivers today “he reminds me of Prost” etc. but did we think at the time that Prost reminded us of Reutemann? I remember reading the report about his outing in that Ferrari and it certainly got my attention. Watch any of the former GP drivers at Goodwood in the old stuff and you will see what I mean. But what the hell happened in Vegas?

  7. Andrew Scoley, 24 August 2013 11:29

    I think the Brazil situation needs looking at in context, not isolation. In the previous four races, Jones and Reut had finished one-two on three occasions and Carlos had won in South Africa, a result that was then expunged from the championship. It is understandable, that following Alan’s championship the previous year, that Carlos should begin to bat for himself in 81 rather than wholeheartedly backing up Jones for another year. Hence, now leading the Brazilian GP, he felt he should take the win. If he handed the lead to Alan at that point, he himself said “If I do that, I’m not a racing driver anymore”.

    I also believe that Nigel is wrong on the matter of Alan and Carlos not getting on, I really don’t think Alan hated his guts for the rest of season. No, they weren’t best mates and Alan was mighty angry after the race, but then I think they just got on with after that.

    Carlos was scintillating in practice at Monza in 81, and much like Jenson Button in 2010 found a set up which really worked. In the race however, it rained, and the setup was completely unsuitable in the conditions. Carlos still finished third however, so I don’t go with the idea that he was beaten mentally, he drove as well as he could with the car he had.

    I think Williams made two mistakes. One, they didn’t back Carlos up enough as Frank agrees, two, they should have stuck with Michelin tyres for the whole season.

    My suspicion is, Carlos didn’t like to blame his tools and kept quiet about both the gearbox problems in Vegas, and the tyre switch. On his day, he was mighty quick.

  8. Andrew Scoley, 24 August 2013 11:33

    I want to add the following. After leaving Ferrari who promptly won the title with Scheckter and joining Lotus whose 79 went from being the class of the field to gradually sliding down the grid, that he was finally in a car which gave him a genuine shot at the title, and probably he could see that not many more opportunities were going to come his way.

    It would certainly have been very difficult for him to continue driving for Williams whilst Argentina and Britain were at war over the Falklands.

  9. kowalsky and imaginary friends, 24 August 2013 15:18

    what lole means? anyone knows

  10. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 25 August 2013 17:11

    Some fine points must be made to explain the result of that 1981 F1 season, for example,

    1) The first race of that year was the South African GP that Reutemann won but gave no points for the championships. It was a pirate GP promoted by FOCA president and Brabham team boss Bernie Ecclestone in his fight with FISA. Carlos never claimed those 9 point because a race without Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo was value less for him: “Renault would have destroyed us”. And Bernie conveniently forgot to claim the validity of the GP later in the year when Reutemann led the championship against his driver Nelson Piquet.
    2) The hydropneumatic suspension of the Brabhams was clearly illegal but nobody could prove it during a race and so Nelson got two victories that gave him the WDC title. Furthermore, after the Las Vegas GP nobody checked his car’s distance to the ground. What if it turned to be more than the specified 6cm.?
    3) The US GP at Watkins Glen was eliminated from the 1981 F1 season by FISA and there were no plans to substitute it. But Bernie wanted to add another race (perhaps he thought Nelson could need an additional one to chase Reutemann). It would have to be held at a twisty circuit to negate the turbo cars speed advantage…

  11. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 25 August 2013 17:28

    4) Williams shift to Goodyear tyres in the middle of the season was not a wise one. Although the Michelin shod FW-07 was clearly the class of the field at the beginning of 1981, Frank refused to sign the contract with the Frenchmen and instead invited Goodyear to return to F1, supposedly because Bernie told him Michelin favoured Renault. Remember that Michelin supplied every team with the same tyres after Goodyear retirement, froozing development and ending the “tyre wars”, which promoted good performances of other teams such as Arrows. And Reutemann was the master of those tyres according to Pierre Dupasquier, having developed them at Ferrari during 100.000kms of tests. Even Williams was a lot faster than Renault in Argentina, and that circuit was well suited to the turbo cars.
    The Goodyear tyres were not updated to the 1981 cars but somehow they suited the Brabham perfectly, but no to the Williams. The first test session at Paul Ricard showed the FW-07 two seconds slower than the BT-49 and at the following GP in France, tyres blistered heavily in Reutemann’s car turning it uncompetitive. From there the Brabham got the upper hand. I can imagine Bernie’s grin.
    The Goodyear wet weather tyre was awful and that produced a Michelin feast in the Canadian GP, where the Williams were undriveable. Jones led early but was unable to keep there, so pitted and asked “which tyres is Carlos using?, put it on”. But later decided to retire: “I can’t understand how Carlos keeps on the track with those tyres”

  12. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 25 August 2013 17:53

    Nigel has mentioned an interview to Carlos after the British GP when was leading the championship by 17 points and he showed doubts about winning the title. Perhaps he had good reasons for this. Let’s see:
    5) Reutemann got notice of a powerful DFV engine tested at Cosworth and alloted to Williams, so he asked it to Frank for the German GP. But arriving there he got news of Jones having signed for 1982. Williams decided to push Alan for the 1981 title and gave him that engine. Carlos’ car got feeding problems so he turned to the spare one which lacked the new rear wing and fitted with an old engine. “That engine was good for a 4th place, but I was concentrated and could follow the leaders at the beginning, so I pushed on. The engine didn’t stand, my fault”
    6) Brabham was built around Piquet, who received all the attention from the team. All the money brought by his team mates contributed to Nelson’s car development and their cars were really Piquet’s spare ones (and sometimes even their tyres, as at the Canadian GP qualifying, which was illegal). Even Nelson elected to race almost for free in 1981 to free more money for his car development. That produced an amazing number of BT-49 new tubs, ever more light and stiffer, which gave him an advantage in the twistier tracks.
    Reutemann got a spare car for his exclusive use only from the Autrian GP onwards, which imposed him a conservative approach at the qualifying sessions and at the GP starts: any problems at these instances would cost him dear.

  13. Ivan Carlos Ruchesi, 25 August 2013 18:18

    7) It is not clear if Williams wanted just Jones to win the WDC or if they wanted to keep both driver’s chances to the end, although Jones hadn’t any chances after the Canadian GP.
    At Las Vegas all the team seemed concentrated in Jones’ car, perhaps to convince him to stay in 1982, which gave him a great victory a produced a notorious celebration of the team crew as he crossed the line. It also promoted this Alan’s comment to Italian journalists: “It was marvelous to lap Carlos. That demonstrates Reutemann only can race at a Miss Argentina contest”. Next he got to the motorhome to have a beer with P. Head. Sums it up.
    I can’t think of another title contender who faced – and stood – so many odds against him, mostly of them out of his control.
    Although a sad end after 185 days of leading the point standings, it was a notorious feat for a second driver, one to not be seen again in F1 history.

  14. Andrew Scoley, 25 August 2013 20:37

    Carlos, like Patrick Tambay, is one of those drivers who ‘won’ a world championship across two seasons.
    Between Monaco 1980 and Belgium 1981, Carlos had a run of 15 consecutive points finishes. In that period he amassed 77 points to 70 of Alan Jones, and 54 of Nelson Piquet. Interestingly, Alan won his title with 67 points (71 if you count all the scores) and Nelson won his in 81 with 50.

    That said, Alan had the Monaco and German Grand Prix of 1981 bought and paid for and should have been world champion in both 80 and 81 and was undoubtedly the driver of the year in 81. Had he stayed with Frank for 82 I think he and Gilles would have fought mightily for the 82 title. C’est la vie.

  15. Al, 27 August 2013 03:42

    These “recycled anecdote”-type articles were bad enough the first time ’round!

  16. A.S. Gilbert, 27 August 2013 08:47

    We’ve visited Carlos Reutemann, a few times over the past couple of years.
    Enigma, absolutely. Championship worthy, on talent, as great as any, for sure.
    I believe he loved racing, and loathed it’s highest expression, but the only form that challenged him, the Formula One culture.
    I was a huge Reutemann fan, because no one has ever had better drives, than he did on his days. Well motivated, on equal terms he would dominate.
    Carlos won in lesser, or softly “equal” gear, like adversity was the required intoxicant.
    Sr. Ruchesi always unravels ‘Lole’s” mystique, a bit more, every re-visit on his career, and I thank for him that.
    I’m Canadian, and I believe for those of us who recall, Reutemann’s kind regard for Gilles’, and his tutorage of him at Ferrari, amplified him to us.
    Talent, a certain top 10, career fulfilling less so. Sr. Bertini is so correct, when he chose to display, Lole was the best .

  17. R.E.B, 28 August 2013 17:29

    Maybe he just didn’t want to win.

  18. Laura, 11 September 2013 00:02

    I will never forget that day. It was one of the worst days of my life. Reutemann deserved that title so much. He was leading the championship after the second round. All year long. And the team didn’t care. They just turned back and left him alone. They even celebrated Jones’ victory at Las Vegas. A total absurd.
    Thanks for this Legend tribute.

  19. edu, 21 September 2013 09:32

    you should read in Spanish many books written on Reutemann, such “los días de Reutemann ” and the book of Pandolfo, he explains everything there, Las Vegas was a gear box problem, and the misteries of the man are a myth, he is very simple uncomplicated man, just a great driver. Lole means los lechones, spanish for the little pigs raised by his farmer father.

  20. Sergio Firizin, 19 October 2013 03:17

    Carlos Reutemann was my childhood hero. When he gone to Ferrari at the end of 1976 I was in heaven (my father roots is from Italy). One year later, in Italy, I bought ˝F1 Electric Circuit˝ with Carlos big picture on. I got two cars, one Carlos 312T2 and another (I must admit) gorgeous black&gold lotus 72 JPS (Ronnie) which is much quicker. When I returned home (then Yugoslavia), I was full of myself. Now I 47 years old and stil have that circuit. AS years passed I became painful aware that Reut chance for overall win slowly disappeared. Than he received an invitation to join powerful Saudia-Williams Team. I know ˝…this is a chance˝. In 1980 as AJ take a title he take point after point, then podium after podium. Year ending in dominance (1-2 Canada&USE). It was obvious, 1981 season is now or never for Carlos. Than again, after AJ won WC, maybe just maybe he have a chance. Of course, FW (AJ too) had other idea. Rio was not surprise for me, in fact I was proud. Race show Carlos fully awarenessof the situation, this year he can win…next not. First half of the season are like dream, mostly in points, AJ&Piquet mostly out. Silverstone is ˝High Water Mark˝ which I was aware at that time and Reut too (I was 10 years MotorSport subscriber). From than on he rapidly losing points, AJ&Piquet just oposite. Final disaster is not surprise to me. In my country media openly sent reports about war in Williams (we supposed to leaving behind ˝Iron Curtain˝, how we know that?), and sabotage on Reut car. On the other hand FW leaving in free England and know nothing about it.

  21. Ale Capece, 2 February 2014 20:15

    Kowalski: “Lole” is a nickname from his childhood, when he was a little fat, because he liked very much to eat “the porks” (“los lechones” in spanish) The phrase is pronounced sometimes as “lo’lechone” avoiding to pronounce both “s”. From this phrase comes his familiar nick “lole”, that sport journalist soon adopted wen his career beginned to be noticed.

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